Makerspaces: what's in a name?

No two makerspaces are the same. They may not even be called makerspaces. They are built with specific audiences in mind - and each has its own distinct personality.

Makerspaces, sometimes known as fab labs, hackerspaces and by a variety of other names, are locations where students and patrons can produce, craft, solve problems, collaborate, and develop new skills (Preddy 2013). They are places, both virtual and physical, where users can learn through experimentation, exploration, and play (Fleming, 2015). Makerspaces are areas where users can gather, share, and discover (Britton 2012) and what is very clear after almost four years of research is that every maker learning area is different. Some have a focus on the arts, crafting, and expression while others feature a more technical concentration with circuits, robotics, and 3D printing.

No matter the emphasis or the size of the space, the spirit and idea of making is the same; the incorporation of the tools and materials available and what can be created.

Research in the field of makerspaces continues to grow. Informal publications such as blogs, magazines, and practical field advice are more popular but the scholarly, data-driven work continues to rise in volume as well. How are makerspaces are being used in libraries is a question of interest to many in our field. Is a makerspace right for my library? What about the more traditional roles of libraries, what will happen? What should I have in my makerspace? What type of makerspace should I offer? What if a maker learning space isn’t right for my population? These are just a selection of the questions that come up in my discussions and interviews on maker learning spaces.

What has become increasingly clear as I visit and talk to more librarians is that no two maker learning spaces are the same. Each one is built with their clients, patrons, or students in mind. What is also emerging is that each makerspace has its own personality. Some library faculty and staff focus solely on the arts, while others are looking into robotics, some makerspaces hone in on the environment, while others are focused on the uses of technology. I have also been introduced to culinary and farming maker labs. The maker movement has quickly gone from a wide focus of making to narrower areas of concentration. In fact, many librarians are starting to call their spaces something other than a makerspace. Some examples include Learning Lab, Collabratory, Libratory, Fab Lab, and my personal favorite The STEAM Engine. They don’t want the focus or the title to get bogged down by the maker movement or the maker idea. Collaboration, problem solving, creativity, future-making, innovation, and entrepreneurship are more important as they look forward to potential ideas for libraries.

I will be talking further about my last three years of work on makerspaces at this year’s ILI Conference. I will be sharing stories, narratives, and examples of makerspaces from around the world along with Antony Groves who will be presenting on the experience in creating a pop-up makerspace at the University of Sussex Library.

Heather Moorefield-Lang is an assistant professor with the School of Library and Information at the University of South Carolina Science in Columbia, South Carolina. Her research is focused in emerging technologies and their use in education and libraries. Her current research focuses on makerspaces in libraries of all types and levels. She will be speaking at Internet Librarian International in Session C102 on Tuesday 18th October 2016.